Speaking off the cuff after his weekly Angelus blessing in St. Peter’s Square, Francis spoke about the mafia for the first time since he became pontiff two months ago.
High profile killings by the Italian mafia have declined since the 1990s, but through activities such as prostitution, extortion and drug trafficking they still wield a heavy influence over the country and its economy.
Italy’s main crime groups – the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta and the Camorra from around the southern city of Naples – have a joint annual turnover of 116 billion euros ($150 billion), according to the United Nations.
That is more than the annual sales of Italy’s biggest company, oil giant Eni.
Francis recalled the example of the Sicilian anti-mafia priest Giuseppe Puglisi, who was killed by gunmen in 1993 outside his home in the island’s capital of Palermo, and was beatified on Saturday .
“My thoughts are with the suffering of women, men and also children who are exploited by the many mafias who make them slaves, through prostitution, through many social pressures,” he said.
“They cannot do this, they cannot make our brothers slaves, we must pray to the Lord to make these mafiosi convert to God.”